Summary: Physical Pain, Unanswered Prayers, Grace
OUT OF WEAKNESS…STRENGTH - Paul: “The Thorns Really Hurt”
2 Corinthians 12:1-10 (p. 808) October 1, 2017
Have you ever wondered why God put thorns on roses?
Well, here’s the scientific answer from a Harvard professor:
“Roses really don’t have thorns…thorns are woody branches deeply embedded in a plant structure…Roses have “prickles.” Prickles are sharp pointed hairs that contain epidermal and sub-epidermal tissues. A thorn is a short, sharp modified stem. Roses use “prickles” to ward off predators…prickles help extend the roses life.”
But I’m thinking when Brett Michaels, from the band Poison, wrote and sang the power ballad “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn,” using the word “prickle” wouldn’t have been as effective. So, we’re gonna call them thorns.
The theory of evolution would teach that the rose plant miraculously sensed that it didn’t want to get eaten and so over millions of years “thorns,” excuse me “prickles” evolved to protect its beautiful blooms from being munched upon by “critters.”
But those of us who have a biblical world view would say that God designed the rose’s beauty and put the thorns there for its protection…without the thorns it just wouldn’t last as long.
Hmmmm. It seems there could be a spiritual application to this truth.
That application? God gives us thorns so we can be protected by His grace…and in our weakness we can trust His power.
Let’s ask some questions today about thorns…
I. DO YOU REMEMBER PAUL’S PAST?
Paul says, “I was a violent man, I was a blasphemer, I was someone who persecuted believers…I was the worst sinner who ever lived.” (1 Timothy 1:13)
Those were his words to describe his life before his conversion.
And you remember that conversion don’t you? Headed to Damascus to do some of that violent persecution…Being struck down in the dirt blind in an encounter with a risen Jesus…being led by the hand to Damascus…where Ananias is sent by God to restore Paul’s sight.
Here’s what God tells Ananias…And what happens:
ACTS 9:13-19 (p. 765)
God calls you…miraculously saves you and then gives you this message:
“I will show him how much he must suffer in my name.”
Wow!!! Something to look forward to, huh?
But I often say, “God will not call us to something without supplying us with everything.”
And Paul’s suffering would be intense…The thorns would hurt.
[Five times I received from the Jews the 40 lashes minus one, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones (usually it only takes once), three times I was shipwrecked…I spent a night and a day in the open sea…I’ve had to constantly be on the move…I’ve been in danger from rivers, bandits, my countrymen and the Gentiles…I’ve been in danger in every possible location and in danger from unbelievers…I’ve worked hard, gone without sleep, I’ve been hungry and thirsty, cold and naked…and I feel a burden daily for the people I love in the church.”]
He’s gone through all this “For the sake of the call.” His calling to make disciples for Christ to preach the good news of salvation.
I never read that he prays for the persecution to stop…or that he ever belly aches about it.
But, he does pray 3 times for one thorn to be removed…it’s one in his flesh. It’s physical…it’s painful…The Greek word used here for thorn is “skolops.” And it literally means “A stake driven into my flesh.” And it seems he’s dealt with it for 14 years or so. 3 times he has begged God to take it away…And God said, “No!”
Have you ever begged God for something? “Please God, I can’t function with this…Take it away…PLEASE GOD…PLEASE!!!”
And God says, “No…keep it…and trust me.”
Folks, I’m not God so I don’t know all the whys for Him not removing it…but Paul tells us what he discovered in the “no” of God.
“To keep me from being conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations I was given this thorn in the flesh.” He hates it so much he calls it “A messenger of Satan to torment me.”
The thorn and the revelation were both used by God to supply what Paul needed for his calling.
The revelation happened 14 years before this letter to the Corinthians… “God gives Paul a glimpse of why his calling is worth it…“Caught up into Paradise” (the same place Jesus promises to be with the thief on the cross). He hears things so powerful he’s not even permitted to talk about them.
Paul doesn’t know if he was dead or alive when this happens…many believe this mystical experience happened when he was stoned and left for dead…the timing is right. But regardless, in this revelation from God he sees and hears Paradise. He knows that suffering and death are worth it.